My short bio: Hi! I’m Tara Keck. I’m a neuroscience researcher on the faculty at University College London and I study how the brain changes when we learn new things. My PhD research focused on changes to the memory and learning areas of the brain, and I then worked in Germany researching how we learn through our senses. Now I run a lab at UCL in London.

To get ready for Valentine’s Day, I’m answering questions about what happens in our brains during Sex and Orgasm, so AMA. if you check in too late, you can post your question to my Facebook page, where I’ll be answering additional questions. fb.me/FemaleBrainSex

My Proof: http://imgur.com/a/3K886

Comments: 224 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

iBurnedTheChurch349 karma

So, uh... what does happen?

tmkl2678343 karma

the short answer is that physical stimulation is only a small part of sex and orgasm. During your everyday life, there is a balance between the brain areas that make you feel turned on (desire...) and those keep you from just having sex all the time (planning areas).

During actual orgasm, far more brain regions are turned off than turned on. so having a good time during sex is all about getting all the parts of your brain that suppress your sexual urges to turn off. That's a much bigger factor for most people than the physical stimulation.

Dacamented201650 karma

Do we suppress those part of brain in other activities like exercising where many feel-good chemicals are also generated?

tmkl26784 karma

It depends on the exercise, but turning off your "executive function" areas of your brain is not necessary to release feel good chemicals.

dqyoshi49 karma

So "you turn me off" is now a pickup line?

tmkl267839 karma

never thought of that before, but it's genius.

EntropicalResonance14 karma

Does that mean critical thinking is impaired when extremely aroused?

tmkl267812 karma

Yes, this is why from a decision making and neuroscience POV, it's best to deal with things like birth control before you get too far along. You are much more likely to make the decision you want long term (and it will help you turn off those areas).

multiprong136 karma

my girlfriend orgasms sometimes but not others. how come?

tmkl2678189 karma

always love a good sex pun. For most women, whether or not they orgasm has a lot to do with their sexual suppressors (just playing the odds here). And for many women, stress is a big one. Very common is that too much stress will make it hard for a woman to have an orgasm, since she'll be distracted otherwise, and could explain why she sometimes has an orgasm and sometimes doesn't.

multiprong44 karma

thanks i get it but my girlfriend is pretty chill. are there other suppressors?

tmkl2678191 karma

certainly, common suppressors include being worried about body image (very common), performance anxiety (either being 'bad in bed' or ironically being stressed about not being able to orgasm), worried about getting pregnant - really anything that gets her worried about the future or makes her feel self-conscious. Yeah, I realize that could be almost anything, but exploring these ideas in a conversation with her could help identify some potential suppressors.

wayneryder55 karma

Your girlfriend can have an orgasm 100% of the time when alone. What's the difference? Your woman needs to stop worrying about you and use you as a virtual vibrator. You don't give a woman an orgasm, she simply lets you participate in her own generated orgasm. Switch the genders and it's the same. If a man couldn't have an orgasm with a woman yet could easily have one alone the answer is just as obvious, they are thinking of things other than their selfish desires.

tmkl26786 karma

Scientifically, some women have a much easier time having an orgasm with a partner and some have an easier time during masturbation (some of course can do both or neither). All are normal and healthy, just different brain wiring. It depends on how your turn-on and turn-off brain regions are wired. If you have strong brain wiring between your emotion and your turn-on brain areas, then orgasm with a partner can be easier and better. If you have strong suppression related to 'performance anxiety', then masturbation orgasms can be easier and better. It's useful to figure out your personal turn-ons and turn-offs and then you can adjust your sex life to suit your needs.

subtropicalyland57 karma

Is there likely to be any research (or are you doing any) into the brains of people who are Asexual?

I am one and I'd be very interested to know if I've got a loose neuron in there somewhere.

snorting_smarties9 karma

Op please respond

tmkl26782 karma

added a response above.

tmkl26782 karma

hi. sorry for the slow response on this one. there is an emerging research field in asexuality. Some articles: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2050052116300294 and http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-008-9434-x

I don't work in this area, but I like the conclusion of the first of the two papers. "research in different models is necessary to understand and recognize, not cure, the variability of sexuality, such as asexuality, which is another form of sexual orientation." So I wouldn't worry about a "loose neuron".

one explanation based on the limited research is that the turn-on areas of an asexual brain are less sensitive to sexual inputs. But there could be a lot of different neurological reasons for it. As long as you are happy, I wouldn't worry about it.

rcitaliano55 karma

what defines the line where you cannot hold an orgasm anymore?

I mean that you can keep going and stop, but there comes a moment where even if you don't want it the orgasm will come.

tmkl267886 karma

interesting question. Activity in a brain region (particularly one related to orgasm) can spread between cells. What we think happens is that once a certain number of cells are activated, they increase the activity of the rest of the cells in that brain area and you get past the point of no return.

rcitaliano25 karma

is it possible to control the "spreading" in some way? like expanding and shrinking it at your will to make the orgasm last longer or last as long as you want to

tmkl267879 karma

the easiest way to keep the brain activity spreading from happening is to slow down your sexual experience. for example, focus on different body areas for stimulation and take turns focusing on one partner or the other (if you have one). A very slow ramp up of brain activity will make the spreading happen more slowly and when you do orgasm it will usually be better.

Xenon182543 karma

"(if you have one)" Wow, that's a bit awkward.

tmkl26789 karma

you're assuming that having a partner is better than not. That just depends on the individual's preference.

zfan41 karma

Thank you for doing this.

My questions are more about after sex. Why is it that immediately after orgasm, I lose all interest in the person with whom I just slept with?

Also why do I try to distance myself from that person almost immediately?

I know it's not exactly what you said you came here to answer, but I hope you can help.

tmkl267850 karma

all of our brains work in different ways, so while most people will have a release of a bonding hormone during sex and orgasm, not everyone does. if it's a problem for you, then you can seek advice, but if it isn't, don't worry.

postecon39 karma

Why is it so hard to get aroused during stressful periods? What's the best way to handle it? I would like to have sex even if I'm going through some stress.

tmkl267855 karma

those are your sexual suppressor brain areas. the planning parts of your brain continue to turn off your brain areas that get you turned on when you are stressed. There are two things that you can do in the short term for which there is decent scientific evidence. One is actually planning a regular time to have sex so that it is a bit more of a regular thing and stress will play less of a role. You keep eating dinner when you are stressed, right? The other thing that works for some people is to practice mindfulness techniques (you can read about orgasmic meditation online). If you learn to focus your thoughts at least temporarily on sex, rather than your stress, it will be easier to become aroused and orgasm. Either way, once you get past the initial hurdle of getting aroused during stressful times, sex and orgasm is a fantastic way to reduce your stress (that and exercise).

tmkl267833 karma

Have to go now, but if you have further questions, you can post them on my fb page for this and i'll answer them there. fb.me/FemaleBrainSex

FEMALEforREAL2 karma

I don't have facebook :( I wanted to know if you have studied any link between birth control pills and low libido in women. It's something I have experienced and I have heard many women who share that.

tmkl26781 karma

That's completely normal. Birth control pills affect your hormones, and can alter your interest in sex. If you don't like your low libido, I'd have a conversation with your doctor. There are a lot of different birth control pills that may interact better with your personal hormones. You could also try a non-hormonal form of birth control, which may help your libido rebound. Keep in mind it will take a little while for it to come back.

postecon31 karma

From a neurological POV, does watching porn regularly adversely impact your sex life?

tmkl267871 karma

this is a great question. From a scientific point of view, it's hard to say for sure because it is really hard to do a controlled study. But certainly our early sexual experiences strongly shape our brain wiring related to sex (since our brains are really flexible when we are younger and a bit less flexible when we are older). Nowadays, many people's early sexual exposure involves porn. So particularly with younger people, watching porn will shape their brains and the specific things that make them feel turned on and turned off. How adverse that effect is depends on the person and most likely the porn.

dannyboy1019 karma

Can you direct me to the evidence that early sexual experiences rewires the brain? Fellow neuroscientist here and very curious what regions and if it involves any endocrine changes. Thanks

NotShirleyTemple16 karma

Not OP, but I've done a lot of research on this as a survivor of brutal incest.

One great book (honestly, over my level of understanding, but you can hack it) is "The Body Keeps the Score" by Dr. Van der Kolk. He does a lot of research on how trauma rewires the brain, especially the difference between chronic trauma and acute trauma.

dannyboy1012 karma

I am hoping that is not what the OP was discussing. Trauma like you experienced is very different from a consensual sexual experience. I completely agree that trauma like that can rewire the brain (my best friend does research on this). however, I would like to know if the OP is saying that the experiences we have as we begin to sexually explore rewire circuitry. how and how it is 'stronger' than later experiences. To be clear, I research this are and this is news to me but fascinating. My current understanding of most aspects of sexuality are that they develop earlier than most sexual experience, so, I would really like to hear more.

tmkl26781 karma

hi there. I wasn't discussing trauma, just brain rewiring generally. Any form of learning or changes in your brain rewires your brain (this is what we study in my lab in detail). There are certain wiring patterns that occur before any experience (in all brain areas, not just those associated with sexuality) and then detailed aspects of that brain wiring are adapted with changes that neuroscientists call plasticity. This is thought to underlie learning. In general, different brain areas 'mature' at different rates and early on in life, our brains are much more flexible than later in life. These flexible times are generally referred to as 'critical periods'. A good example is language. If you learn a second language during a critical period (roughly before 10 years old), you can speak it natively and it wires your brain differently than if you learn it later.

That being said, our brains are flexible throughout our entire lives, it is just a bit more work when we get older. So when I was saying that early experiences shape our brain, that's just because our brains are more open to changes then. With repeated effort, we can still rewire our brains throughout life.

iLuvz2bake_n_6925 karma

Hello, thanks for the AMA. I have always wondered about 1 specific thing since I saw something a few years ago.. Can actual brain damage or damage or harm of any sort occur from prolonged intense orgasms?

I ask as there is a fetish model and performer by the name of Rain Degrey who has a gift/curse of being able to orgasm ridiculously intensely and for a looooong time. As well as that she seems to reach orgasm very quickly and easily. There are numerous videos she has done over the years showing how intense and crazy it is. First time I saw it I was intrigued and genuinely wondered if it could in fact be physically dangerous.

I know women orgasm more intensely than men, but this woman is on a whole other level. I'm not trying to be pervy or weird or anything like that, but here is a link (NSFW) to an example of what I mean.

video

All of the stuff she does is very professional, consensual and above board, and there is also a lot of aftercare involved afterwards, and she seems to love what she does. each to their own I guess.

However- is this kind of intensity and prolonged duration of orgasm in fact dangerous? Could she be risking doing herself physical harm to her brain or anything else? Thank you for any info in advance.

tmkl267829 karma

in theory, too much release of brain chemicals can become toxic at some point, but our brains have a lot of mechanisms in place to protect themselves. Currently, there isn't any scientific evidence that orgasm is bad for you (even extended orgasm), so I wouldn't worry about it too much.

rcitaliano20 karma

why do your physical abilities and breath change while having an orgasm?

like, I've never tried to, but if you had the time could you do the "walk on a straight line" drunk test while having an orgasm?

or doing any physical thing that requires some "serious" motor coordination while having an orgasm

tmkl267833 karma

the part of your brain that coordinates your movements with your senses (vision, touch, hearing) is really active during an orgasm, so I would guess most people would fail to pass a "walk a straight line" test during or even shortly after orgasm. and certainly serious motor coordination is not going to happen.

l777720 karma

If orgasm feels so good why do some people want to have sex so infrequently?

tmkl267842 karma

we all have different sexual responses because our brains are all wired differently. So some people's brains jump to think about sex spontaneously, and others jump to think about sex only in response to a strong sexual stimulus. There's nothing right or wrong about either way, but it's good to know where your brain falls on the scale so that if you and your partner have different responses to sex, you can find a way to meet in the middle. Emily Nagoski writes nicely about this in her blog here: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/blog/2014/06/16/i-drew-this-graph-about-sexual-desire-and-i-think-it-might-change-your-life/

Another take on this is that our sexual suppressor brain regions play a big role in wanting to have sex, since those areas of our brain dampen our sexual desires. Stress is a huge suppressor for most people and many people are stressed all the time. Not surprisingly, they are a lot less interested in sex.

OrangeJoe8919 karma

Had their ever been an instance that you know of, where an individual experienced an orgasm so intense that they died as a result? If not it's it possible?

tmkl267839 karma

death by orgasm would be scientifically difficult to prove, so I guess the verdict is out?

Tr0ndern6 karma

I've heard some people (especially young boys uner 20) can orgasm purely from being too horny. What happens in the brain that allows them to orgasm without needing any physical stimulation?

tmkl267832 karma

Orgasm happens entirely in your brain, so yes, you can orgasm from thoughts. And being too horny is probably associated with having a lot of sexual thoughts (that's a guess though, not scientific). There are roughly twenty (depending on how you count) brain areas that are either way more active or way less active than usual during orgasm and only one or two of them have anything to do with physical stimulation. So if you can activate your desire brain regions and turn off your sexual suppression brain regions, then you will have an orgasm, even if you don't touch your body. If you practice it during masturbation regularly, you can learn to associate certain thoughts with orgasm brain activity, which makes it easier to then remove the physical stimulation part and just orgasm in thought.

birdsarekindacool6 karma

I find it easier to orgasm and feel higher sensations alone than with a partner, do you have any idea why? I'm a woman

tmkl26783 karma

again, this just has to do with your individual brain (see comment above to the multiprong comment). On average, women who have easier and better orgasms during masturbation probably have suppressor areas are most activated by things related to having a partner - performance anxiety, body image, pregnancy-risk - so those suppressors are 'off' during masturbation (this is hard to show in a scientific study, but it is by far the most logical explanation). It's completely normal, so it's nothing to worry about if you're happy with it.

RallyX264 karma

After taking Prozac for a relatively long time, I have a bit of orgasm anhedonia. I stopped the Prozac nearly ten years ago, have been on a couple antidepressants since, and have been medication free for a year, but enjoyment really hasn't come back for me.

What happened in my brain, and is there any hope for me?

tmkl26781 karma

I think that this is unfortunately pretty common. If you look at Moody Bitches by Julie Holland, she talks about the effects of antidepressants (particularly on women). I would definitely find a doctor who is on board with helping you fix the problem.

Wuhblam2 karma

Is there any correlation or causation between age and sex drive? In women specifically, if we observe higher sex drive at an older age, could this be due to changes in the menstruation cycle and the change in hormones that come with it?

tmkl26781 karma

certainly a woman's hormones will affect her sex drive and those will change with age and her circumstances (pregnancy, stress, partners). exactly how varies a lot. The one thing that is quite common in post-menopausal women is that they have a lot less vaginal lubrication, so definitely need to increase lubricant use.

Hot_Steam1 karma

Out of all the fields of neurobiology (neuroscience?), what drove you to choose this one in particular?

tmkl26781 karma

I actually study how the brain learns and changes and just thought this was an interesting and useful application. I realized that I had been taught a lot about reproduction, but not a lot about actual sex.

omnichickenn1 karma

Why does smoking weed and sex feel better than just sex?

tmkl26781 karma

that actually varies per person. Some people can't have orgasms when smoking weed and others have better orgasms. we don't know exactly why scientifically, but it probably has to do with exactly which sexual suppressors are active for you and whether smoking weed inactivates them.

CantBeLucid1 karma

How orgasm affects adolescent brains? I heard frequent orgasm blocks development of brain

tmkl26782 karma

I haven't seen any strong scientific evidence that frequent orgasm has effects on brain development, but certainly over exposure to sexual images will change the brains of adolescents.

rickmuscles1 karma

What books do you recommend for understanding female sexuality?

tmkl26781 karma

i love Emily Nagoski's Come As You Are. Really well written and highly scientific.

AldoTheeApache1 karma

Why do a lot people feel guilt/shame after masturbation?

Is it societal? Or is there a deeper biological reason, i.e., stop tossing and go procreate?

tmkl26782 karma

The neuroscience on this isn't great (it's hard to do a well controlled experiment), but most likely this is societal and cultural. Shame can play a big role in sex - it can be a big suppressor for some people - but the actual details of what causes shame is most likely learned.

cfuse1 karma

I'm on psych meds (and have been for decades) and whilst everything else works just fine (ie. erection and sexual experience) lately I've found it's borderline impossible for me to orgasm. What's the cause of that neurochemically and is there anything I can do about it?

tmkl26781 karma

it depends on your psych meds, but they will definitely change your brain chemistry (that's the point). If you want to know more about the details and it's important for this to change, talk with your doctor. for some details on the specifics of different meds, Moody Bitches by Julie Holland covers some of this.

g3n31 karma

What do you know about sex addiction such as the type of brain wiring or specific brain sectors involved? Further, will we ever understand the brain completely?

tmkl26781 karma

it depends on what you mean by understand completely. Hopefully? (sorry, I realize that's a very vague answer. In short, we have no idea).

Addiction is outside my area, but in general, sex addition is thought to use the same pathways as most other addictions (reward pathway).

thenomadicpie1 karma

Ik I may be a bit late but.... is there a difference (in men) between masturbation and actual sex?

tmkl26781 karma

there are not general differences between the two, it will vary for individuals, depending on their personal brain wiring for turn-ons and suppressors.

XMTheS1 karma

How do you even conduct that kind of research? "Ok, so sit in this MRI machine and masturbate."

tmkl26783 karma

That's exactly how it's done, so obviously we have to take some caution in interpreting those results. Technology is advancing very quickly in science so there are ways to measure brain activity (crudely) at home and soon we'll have a better idea.

thegngirl1 karma

I have 2 questions. 1. Does having a stroke effect someone's ability to have sexual arousal/ orgadam. 2. Is there any research done on what happens to the brain during BDSM activity such as enjoyable pain or pay or rope/restraints?

tmkl26781 karma

It depends on which brain area the stroke occurs in and whether that is important in orgasm or arousal, but there is ample evidence for example, that spinal cord injury patients can orgasm, so in many cases with physical therapy, improvements can be made.

Xenon18251 karma

So, how exactly does our brain know that the sexy stuff is happening, besides physical stimulation?

tmkl26781 karma

all the brain regions that get us turned on get inputs from one of our senses. So we see, smell, hear or taste (taste less than the others) things that get us thinking about sex. An easy way to have a better sex life is to include sexy inputs for all of your senses.

[deleted]1 karma

[deleted]

tmkl267811 karma

EDIT: Deleted question was: "is there a difference between orgasms during masturbation and sex with a partner?" (noting this since it has been asked numerous times)

good question. There are not systematic differences between the two orgasms that we know about, but it will vary from person to person and partner to partner. For example, some of the brain regions that get us turned on, interact with our emotional areas, so if we have positive emotions towards a partner, that can make our brain activity and our orgasm more intense. but if we have a lot of sexual suppressors related to being nervous during sex with a partner, then orgasm during masturbation could be better.

slapnutzmcgee1 karma

Any opinion on monkeys wearing people clothes?

tmkl26783 karma

love it when it doesn't involve real animals. we have drawings (portrait style) of animals wearing people clothes in our dining room and one is a pygmy marmoset.